Showing posts with label love stories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label love stories. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Jane Eyre 2011 in brief (Jillian)

Jane Eyre 2011 (Mia Wasikowska)

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT! While on the subject of Charlotte Brontë, I did see the current-most theatrical version of Jane Eyre, last week.

Things I liked:

1. The film begins with Jane’s trek across the moors and finding refuge in the cottage of St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his sisters.

2. Mia Wasikowska, despite her youth, is very good as the reserved but passionate Jane.

3. The character of the house keeper Mrs. Fairfax (Dame Judi Dench) is given more depth and more of a meaningful relationship with Jane.

4. The film is visually stunning with tricks of lights (i.e. fire light) and shadows. As Jane struggles across the wet, dark moor to the Rivers’ cottage, one light in a window draws her into safety.

Things I didn’t like:

1. Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender) is too handsome, and, quite frankly, too creepy. His is a complicated character – always in danger of being portrayed as either too mysterious and angry, or too masculine and cold – an uncomfortable contrast either way to Jane’s youth and lack of knowledge of the world. In the film, this contrast is made far more sexual than it needs to be.

2. It was hard to trust the nuances of their relationship. The film definitely shows Jane and Rochester falling in love but fails to truly answer those nagging depth-questions: Why does Jane love Mr. Rochester? Other than wanting to escape from his insane and mostly-inhuman wife, why does Mr. Rochester love Jane?

3. St. John Rivers does not lose his temper and threaten Jane with eternal damnation in the book.

4. There were moments where lines, lifted almost exactly from the book, were delivered awkwardly, as if the actors were reading them aloud in a literature class.

Over all, I am still very much devoted to the 2006 miniseries starring Tobey Stephens and Ruth Wilson. So much of the novel is better developed in that format – there is more space and time to deepen the story (the friendship into romance, the secrets, the riddles from Rochester’s past, questions of the future) in ways a two-hour feature film cannot. On the whole, Jane Eyre (2011) is a good film, and as novels-into-films go, the 2011 is very faithful to Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece, but it has more shadows than spirit.

Jane Eyre 2006 (Ruth Wilson)

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Damsels in Distress (Michelle)

I’ve been musing on damsels in distress lately. Let me give you fair warning that this post will go on for a bit, but I've got a lot of ideas about said damsels to work out. As a writer of fantastical and perilous situations, it seems sometimes like I can’t live with ‘em and I can’t live without ‘em.

Damsels in distress are deep in the bones of Western literature at this point—maybe Virgil didn’t feel he needed a blonde woman going “Save me!” but by the time we get to the 13th century, they’re pretty firm fixtures. Your hero has a woman he fights for—a lady fair. Oh, there are variants: sometimes she’s really ugly. Sometimes she’s treacherous. Sometimes he needs her more than she needs him. But she’s always there, getting into scrapes and thereby allowing him to demonstrate his masculine prowess.

And there are reasons it works—reasons far too deep and lengthy and controversial and hard to express to get into here—but let’s all admit that it is so satisfying when Edward saves Bella from the potential rapists in Port Angeles; or when the Doctor shouts, “Now there is no power on this earth that can stop me!”; or when Mr. Darcy pays for Lydia’s wedding so that Elizabeth’s life won’t be ruined…on and on and on, all the incarnations. At its best, the tradition of the damsel-in-distress can do some very nice things to develop a character or a relationship. What jump-starts a confession of love better, for example, or proves its sincerity, than a perilous rescue?

The weaker-vessel-female thing also has some very lovely manifestions, in ballet or figure skating or fairy tales. There’s also a fun strain of irony in those manifestations, as we all know (or should know!) the strength and physical prowess it takes to be a ballerina, or the hardiness of heart required to survive a fairy tale. So the illusion of weightlessness in such stories is always just that—she only appears to be a creature of glass. If we don’t forget that it’s an illusion, it can be a fun game to play among ourselves.

“If we don’t forget.” But oh, how we forget. And the damsel in distress becomes so very problematic.

The first problem you probably saw coming a mile away. In many of the traditions, the damsel has no character. She becomes nothing more than an object to be won, a cipher for the hero to project himself onto. In actual fact, medieval romance perpetrates this kind of bland commodification much less often than 1930s heroic films or Walt Disney movies, but that’s neither here nor there. Remember the ridiculous women of Errol Flynn films, or to take a more elevated example, Lucy Manette in A Tale of Two Cities. I love A Tale of Two Cities, please don’t mistake me, but does that woman have any characteristics besides golden beauty and undiscriminating goodness?

And you’d be surprised how quickly the cipher damsel can take on darker characteristics. Take all the collective fantasies about sleeping, unconscious, or otherwise immobile women—Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Pygmalion—who must be restored to life. In a lot of the original versions of these stories, it’s not a nice little kiss that awakens these women, either, but fully fledged sexual conquest. I’m not of the camp that says these stories should be utterly jettisoned, as I think there are many interesting things going on in them besides a necrophilic impulse, but the pathological passivity of these women in many of their cultural incarnations—particularly the Disney ones!—shouldn’t be overlooked.

Or look at this Fuseli painting again: It’s not hard to see that while the source of the horror is supposed to come from the dark powers encroaching on the pure woman, there’s quite a voyeuristic sexual charge coming out of the threat to her as well. Why save her, when you could watch what happens next?

Then there are the scores and scores of Victorian poems involving ladies fair who die, the countless pre-Raphaelite paintings of dead or dying women, the images of Leda all painted from a masculine perspective in which the woman who is raped by a swan gazes lasciviously out of the canvas while it happens. Sorry to disturb you, but this is the heritage of anybody who writes in the Western tradition. Granddad left us more stuff up in the attic than the Mona Lisa.

So where does that leave a writer?

Contemporary adventure films always have to confront the damsel-in-distress tradition. Often, I think, they do it extremely unsatisfyingly, even when writers are clearly trying to be PC. Indiana Jones gets plucky companions, but the scriptwriters seem to mistake shrill shrewishness for feminine strength. As far as I’m concerned, this is just another form of misogyny. Elizabeth Swann in the Pirates franchise is also clearly a direct attempt to circumvent the damsel-in-distress tradition (“You like pain? Try wearing a corset!”), but to me and almost everyone else I know, she registers only as irritating. And as for the tough-and-rough women of sci-fi (Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider? Charlize Theron’s assassin in Aeon Flux? River Song in Doctor Who?), with their lycra costumes and dominatrix overtones, they’re fantasies just as disturbing as all the sleeping princesses in all the towers you could imagine.

Where's the good news, Michelle? Well, despite all appearances, I do actually think that this isn't a hopelessly screwed up motif. There are some examples of fiction, ancient and new, that offer some possibilities for hope.
The best and most broadly applicable answer is probably just to write rich characters. As I said earlier, if the damsel tradition is used judiciously in a relationship that is developed sufficiently in other ways, it can be very moving. If the damsel motif is so deeply ingrained in the Western tradition, then it stands to reason that it’s pretty deeply ingrained in the Western man, and that this is one way that a character born and raised anytime after the 13th century would communicate love. So, yeah, Edward wants to save Bella, and as long as he’s not objectifying her, we can and should accept it as an expression of love. Similarly, it doesn’t bother me that the Doctor is always trying to save his companions in NuWho (that’s kind of his thing, anyway); that Darcy gets all protective of Elizabeth; that Tristan comes swooping in to keep Yvaine’s heart from being cut out…etc, etc, etc. I’d sure appreciate that if my heart was going to get cut out, after all, and all the women saved in these stories have sufficient personhood that we experience these moments as expressions of feeling rather than defense of possessions.

Another contemporary film that has effectively dealt with the damsel issue is, bizarrely, The Mummy, starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weiscz. The filmmakers let the man demonstrate his physical prowess as he’s always done, but provide the woman with a definite character and unique contribution to the situation. So, Brendan Fraser got to swoop in and save a woman who’s as hopeless in a crisis situation as I certainly would be, but she’s the one who is able to figure out what was going on by virtue of her archaeological expertise. (Again, though, this requires script development: it’s not enough just to put Jessica Alba in glasses and a lab coat and say, “See? She’s a scientist!")

There are also older stories that complicate the issues very satisfyingly. Jane Eyre springs to mind, with its constant fluctuation of power between the two protagonists, ultimately leading them beyond questions of power into love. In The Lord of the Rings, too, I love the character of Eowyn, who clearly can save herself with a sword but also suffers from a deeper spiritual distress (totally lost in the movie). Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale also portrays a woman who triumphs by the strength of her own character even as we wait for her to be reunited with her warlike husband. If memory serves, Chretien de Troyes’ Eric and Enide is also interesting on this score, as is Book III of the Faerie Queene, featuring Britomart, the female knight who is questing for her beloved.
Possibly it just says more about my personality than anything else that I prefer stories that work within the tradition to enrich and subvert it rather than stories that declare open war on it. Still, as Sleeping Beauty and Snow White prove, the good and the bad in culture can be inextricably tangled.

That is certainly the case for all those poor damsels in distress. Let’s save em, shall we?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Unusual Love Lyrics (Michelle)

I recently downloaded the Juno soundtrack, and I've been enjoying it immensely because it's lyrics are often so interesting and surprising. The simplicity of the soundtrack really forces you to listen to the words as well as to appreciate the beauty of the unvarnished, unpolished human voice.

But I've been thinking of it also in relation to Jillian's post about the difficulties involved in writing love stories. It is so hard not to feel hackneyed, particularly if you are terrified of being accused of sentimentality.

But there are some excellent love songs out there with surprising lyrics that make me, at least, think that it is possible to talk about love in original yet still tender ways. Some of these lyrics from the Juno soundtrack have me imagining possible stories that could lie behind them. You could almost grab one of these lines as a writing prompt and try to craft the story to explain them.

Elope with me, Miss Private, and we'll sail around the world
I will be your Ferdinand and you my wayward girl
I love you I’ve a drowning grip on your adoring face
I love you my responsibility has found a place
Beside you and strong warnings in the guise of gentle words
Come wave upon me from the wider family net absurd
“You’ll take care of her, I know it, you will do a better job”
Maybe, but not what she deserves
("Piazza New York Catcher," Belle & Sebastian)

I kiss you on the brain in the shadow of a train
I kiss you all starry eyed my body swinging from side to side
I can't see what anyone can see in anyone else.

You're always trying to keep it real
I'm in love with how you feel
("Anyone Else But You," the Moldy Peaches)

Or take any line from "All I Want Is You," an old-style bluegrass song that's a series of pairings:

If you were a river in the mountains tall
The rumble of your water would be my call
If you were the winter, I know I'd be the snow
Just as long as you were with me when the cold winds blow
If you were a castle I'd wanna be the moat
And if you were the ocean I'd learn to float.

I find it intriguing to imagine the relationship for each pairing - what is it like if she's the castle and he's the moat, or if she's the winter and he's the snow? A good prompt for a writing exercise.

Have fun!

Friday, September 19, 2008

"Does it need saying?" (Jillian)

First, a few lyrics from Karen Matheson - Album: Time to Fall, Song: "All the Flowers of the Bough" (She's Scottish, and she's awesome!)

Hearts are meant to be broken -
Made that way.
Love must have its trial.
Beauty, hope and wonder
Could not be
Without doubt and pain and self-denial.

All the flowers of the bough
They will fall and they will fade
But they resound
In the distance of the days.
Is life just a dance
Of happenstance?
I don't believe that.

Something that has been on my mind lately is love stories. I am writing a novel that is very much a love story. It was not something I'd planned. In fact, when the idea sparked into my imagination two years ago (in a story of its own), I began with the express purpose of avoiding a love story all together. My thought was, "I am too obsessed with all of these romance ideas! I shouldn't be aiming for a corny, sappy, sugar fest! What will people think?" But years later, the love story fought back… and has become one of the strongest threads in the tapestry of this novel. But why the lingering shame? Not to mention, the reluctance to mention to people who innocent ask what this complicated project is about, "Oh, yeah, there are these two characters who eventually… well… you know… fall in love…" and changing the subject as fast as possible.

I think our society has, in general, become cynical about love and what love actually means… overindulgent in things that seem to be love but are not. Evidence seems to be everywhere in film (loathed unintelligent "chick flicks" which border on soft pornography much of the time), on television, and in books - sex is more prevalent, less meaningful. Stories are full of disappointed hopes and disillusionment… as if it is foolish to expect much else. I cannot express how many times I have enjoyed a book until the characters cross that once-sacred threshold. Not even Elizabeth I in Alison Weir's otherwise wonderful The Lady Elizabeth is allowed to escape dangerous romances at a young age. Most stories are love stories, but only a small portion of them do more than cater to marketed "needs"… like The Notebook and its companions… where "love" is little more than a theme badly constricted in a formula, to the point where it grates on the value of characters and drags the story away from creativity… from a writer's unique drive to write outside the lines.

So in the broader context of sitcoms and ridiculous dramas, love is a blanket term for giggles, scandal and situations that end badly. Like smoking cigarettes - this kind of cynicism is a gradual road to an early loveless demise.

It is utter sadness! Because as human beings we were meant to love, and we reduce it to foolishness and hormones. Does this mean that the characters in my novel exist only to live out ideals that I could never have? No! It is our God-given gift, to love. Love is a deep, difficult enigma, maintained through sacrifice, self-denial, grace! Grace is such a big part of it. Forgiveness and acceptance without having to earn it. Loved because you're lovable, looking beyond facades and surface impressions, and touches the real person. It isn't just an emotion. It's something deeper, a journey that is as different as the characters who fall unexpectedly into its arms. This is why Doctor Who - yes, you knew it would pop up somewhere in this post - is so powerful, especially when it comes to the Doctor's relationship with Rose… a love doomed many times over, but strong enough to push Rose across parallel worlds to return to him. And the Doctor, in the tragedy of his immortality, literally leaves her with his double - a human version of himself - the only way the Doctor could fully give himself to her… with the greatest love comes the greatest pain… and vice versa. He has to walk away, while Rose begins her life with a man who is himself, but separate from his experience.

That is why I refuse to become a literary lemming and jump off the everybody-expects-this cliff. If love is truly boundless - than it shouldn't always mimicRomeo and Juliet (note that Shakespeare called it a tragedy not a romance!)… or Pretty Woman… or The Little Mermaid. (Feel free to insert here the first obnoxious romance that pops into your mind !) Love is a chameleon "very often mistaken for loathing" as Yvaine expresses in Stardust, and is full of surprises. And the surprises, the questions, the possibilities, the GREAT UNKNOWN is what I want to write about… not what every poor soul is trained to reach for!

I leave you with a picture. In the last episode of Series Four of Doctor Who ("Journey's End"), Rose says to the Doctor, "The last time I stood on this beach on the worst day of my life, what did you say to me?"

The Doctor's face is stern, and sad, as he prepares to leave Rose and the other Doctor behind. "I said 'Rose Tyler'."

"Yeah, and how was that sentence going to end?"

He hesitates. "Does it need saying?"

Rose turns to the Doctor's human double (wearing a blue suit). "And you Doctor? How would you finish that sentence?"

His answer: leaning over and whispering the magic words in her ear. We can all guess what they were:

And was it worth it? Yes! No shame in powerful, bittersweet beginnings. If a picture - a journey - like this is not a part of my writing… I can't imagine that I would want to write at all!

Happy writing, dreaming and loving!


to a blog by three people who write, for anyone else who wants to write. It's a cruel world for creators, and here we promise support, whimsy, and curiosity that will hopefully keep your pen moving and keyboard tapping!

To read more about why Daedalus Notes exists, click